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Danvers police sergeant to relinquish school role after hockey scandal

Two years after a Danvers High School hockey player told police and school officials about alleged violent racist, homophobic, and antisemitic conduct on the 2019-20 team, the Danvers police sergeant who served as the head coach will be reassigned from supervising the town’s school resource police officers.

Sergeant Stephen Baldassare, who had resisted his ouster from police work in the schools over the scandal, relented this week and asked to be reassigned at the end of the academic year in June, according to Police Chief James Lovell.

Baldassare will step down as commander of the police department’s community services division, whose jurisdiction includes the Danvers public schools.

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“I have accepted his request and we will begin the process to select and train his replacement in anticipation of the 2022-2023 school year,” Lovell said.

The state attorney general’s office is investigating the Danvers school system’s response to the alleged misconduct, which triggered calls for Baldassare’s reassignment and the resignations of school leaders after the Globe reported in November that town officials for more than 16 months concealed from the public details of the alleged locker room abuse as well as a hockey team group text chat that was rife with deeply offensive racial, homophobic, and antisemitic language and images.

Baldassare’s reassignment is the latest repercussion. The high school principal and assistant principal have left the district, and the system’s longtime superintendent, Lisa Dana, recently agreed to retire in August, forgoing the final four years of her contract. One of Dana’s top assistants, Keith Taverna, also announced he is leaving office in June.

High school athletic director Andrew St. Pierre is one of the only school officials who supervised Baldassare and the hockey team who has yet to announce his departure.

Dana drew criticism when she rehired Baldassare to coach the 2020-21 hockey team even before an independent investigation into the allegations involving his 2019-20 team was complete. He stepped down as coach after the 2020-21 season, as copies of the offensive texts began to circulate on social media, sparking outrage in the community.

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Baldassare has denied knowing about the alleged misconduct. He has not spoken publicly about the matter, but in a letter to the school hockey community before he stepped aside in 2021 he stated that an initial school investigation “revealed actions and behaviors of certain members of our hockey community that I know do not reflect the character and culture we seek for this program.”

Baldassare added, “I have dedicated my career to being a positive influence on the youths in our community. As your coach, I have the responsibility to effectively monitor players before, during and after games and practice to ensure the safety, health and well-being of all our players. . . . I want to reassure you that had I been made aware of the actions and behaviors revealed in the school’s investigation, I would have addressed them appropriately. . . . I am committed to doing so moving forward.”

Baldassare, 48, was a star athlete at Danvers High School and Fitchburg State University before he joined the Danvers police in 1999. He served as a detective and later as the resource officer at Danvers High School before he was promoted to the supervisory role for all the town’s resource officers.

Lovell said Baldassare “is a valued member of the Danvers Police Department’s Command Staff, a respected supervisor, police officer, and investigator. At this time Sergeant Baldassare’s new role has not been decided, but based on his knowledge, skills, and abilities, I am confident he will be successful in any role he is assigned to and will continue to proudly serve the residents of Danvers.”

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Lovell and town manager Steve Bartha previously had rejected calls from community members to reassign Baldassare, citing his stated commitment to them to make a positive impact on the school culture through his police work. Bartha said Friday he supports Lovell’s transition plan for Baldassare.

In November, the alleged victim told the Globe, “It has really been shown at this point that Sergeant Baldassare does not have the leadership qualities necessary to have that type of power. It’s really a public disservice to keep him in that position.”

On Thursday, the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion committee voted to support the NAACP’s recent recommendation that Baldassare be reassigned from his police role in the schools.

“He was found to have not met expectations in his role as a coach, not as a police officer,” the committee’s vice chair, Kristen Perkins, said. “I think the culture of ‘I didn’t know’ is unacceptable, and it makes me worry about when my own kids are in sports in the Danvers school system, if that’s the culture that’s been created. I think it’s important to be able to move on from this situation.”

The committee agreed to call on the town to replace Baldassare “with someone from the ranks who has a clean slate and has participated in the trainings recommended by the NAACP.”

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Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.